Bishop Hill is Utopia on the Prairie
The quiet country village of Bishop Hill in Henry County is known as “Utopia on the Prairie,” and once you stroll through the historic community, you’ll see why. Founded by Swedish immigrants in 1846, the tiny village has only about 128 residents, but what it lacks in numbers, it greatly makes up for in charm.
Many original historic buildings built by the founding immigrants remain today, giving visitors a glimpse of Bishop Hill’s Swedish-American heritage. Surviving buildings can be found on the National Register of Historic Places. Bishop Hill as a whole has been named a National Landmark Village brimming with interesting museums, down-home eateries, unusual gift shops and art galleries that offer a peek into the community’s past.
Bishop Hill’s Swedish-American Heritage
Begin your tour at the Bishop Hill Museum where you can watch an orientation video, access visitor information and view the remarkable paintings of Bishop Hill native Olof Krans. Nationally recognized as one of Illinois’ foremost folk artists, Krans arrived in the Bishop Hill Colony with his family in 1850 at the tender age of 12. Decades later in 1895, Krans began painting his memories of the early communal time in Bishop Hill, from the buildings and people to the seasonal agricultural work and daily life.
Bishop Hill Shopping
Don’t miss the 1848 Colony Church, Bishop Hill’s most historically significant building. The basement and first floor served as dwelling rooms for the founding families with one family occupying each room. Twenty families lived in the Colony Church, and the second floor provided a place for colonists to gather for worship. Today, the sanctuary still has its original black walnut pews, and the 10 first-floor rooms have exhibits on Bishop Hill Colony life.
The three-story, stuccoed-brick Colony Hotel operated in Bishop Hill from 1852 until 1861 and housed one of only two kitchens in the colony. It provided lodging for traveling salesmen doing business in Bishop Hill and gave colonists a link to the outside world. It has been restored to the 1860s era with colony-made furnishings.
Shop for treasures at the Bishop Hill Colony Store built in 1853 as a center for daily community life. The Bishop Hill Heritage Association restored the Greek Revival building in 1975, and today it houses souvenirs, old-fashioned candy, gifts, locally made items and unusual finds. You’ll also find a wealth of local, handmade gifts at the Prairie Arts Center where working craftsmen create fiber arts, pottery, brooms, wool items and other souvenirs. Call ahead for operating hours.
Winter in Bishop Hill
You’ll find no better place to get in the holiday spirit than Bishop Hill. The village shines during the holiday season with annual events, such as the “Julmarknad” Christmas Market (Dec. 3-4), where you’ll encounter Swedish folk characters and discover Swedish foods, decorations and gifts for sale. The same weekend, Bishop Hill hosts a Chocolate Walk, allowing participants to savor homemade chocolate delicacies.
For another magical holiday event, come for Lucia Nights (Dec. 9-10) where young girls dressed as Saint Lucia serve evening coffee and sweet treats in shops and museums. The popular celebration evolved from the Swedish legend of Saint Lucia, Queen of Light. Still today, girls in Sweden wake their families on Dec. 13 carrying a tray of Lucia buns (yeast buns dotted with raisins) while dressed in white robes and crowns of candles. Luminaries line the sidewalks, and musical entertainment creates a festive atmosphere.
For more Bishop Hill events and attractions, visit bishophill.com.
Cozy Up to Bishop Hill
Care to stay awhile? The Gallery Inn and Twinflower Inn Bed and Breakfast give visitors the unusual opportunity to sleep in one of the original historic Bishop Hill Colony buildings. The Gallery Inn welcomes guests into the 1856 Colony Administration Building for a peaceful getaway overlooking the village park. Twinflower Inn offers four guest suites in the old 1855 Colony Hospital and serves a hearty breakfast made with locally grown ingredients. Reservations required; visit bishophillgalleryinn.com or twinflowerinn.com to learn more.